Black Tiger is one of those games that if someone mentions it around you, you either enthusiastically give them a high five and then spend the next five minutes ranting about it or you scratch your head as to what it is and wonder if that part of your childhood had been erased by a top secret agency that hates awesome video games with sweet, heavy metal style logos.
I remember when this arcade cabinet first hit my local corner store in the late 80’s, nestled in snugly between more popular games like Vigilante and Gauntlet. As a platformer fan, I immediately took a liking to it, while many of my friends steered clear after a day of their lunch money quickly came and went.
Why did they have such disdain? If you asked them, you’d hear every excuse imaginable, but the truth is, Black Tiger is a real challenge. Much like Ghouls and Ghosts, there’s no life bar. It’s you and some armor. Once a bad guy thumps you and that armor breaks off, you’re dungeon-crawling in your undies. One more hit after that and it’s lights out! I often refer to it as “Mega Man meets the Fifth Plane of Hell.”
The game starts out with a brief back story about a couple of dragons who were up to no good and started making trouble in the neighborhood. Rather than hightailing it to his aunt and uncle’s house, our hero (I like to call him, Mr. Tiger) dons his fighting garb and weapon of choice, a big ol’ knife launching chain with various killing devices at the end of it.
Overall, the gameplay is fairly straight-forward. Advance on while killing all those in your path. For a game of it’s time, there’s a surprisingly diverse cast of enemies throughout the game. You do battle with ogres, fire demons, skeletons and of course…fire breathing mummies, just to name a few.
As the game progresses, you run into even more types pf enemies, and the aforementioned become much more congested into areas of levels. The scenario usually plays out as being surrounded by half a dozen skeletons, two fire demons a bat or two for good measure, and just when you think you’re in the clear, a man-eating plant will spring up from the floor to poison you.
The end result? Furious button mashing and joystick floundering, followed by you reaching into your pocket for another quarter while muttering words that would make your mother wince.
Another layer of depth that this game provided, especially as an arcade cabinet, was that it had a bit of a role-playing game edge to it. Scattered throughout the levels, you would come across an old man who somehow had been turned to stone. Once rescued, he would offer you either advice, some of the local currency, called “Zenny Coins” or if you were lucky, he’d open up his shop and sell you some upgrades to your weapons and armor.
My questions is…What was that old man thinking wandering around in a place like that? I understand the economy’s tough for a small business owner, but is it worth the risk of being turned to stone, just to peddle your wares to the occasional barbarian that passes through? Me thinks not.
Secondly, is that the same old man we keep running into throughout the game, and if so, why in the hell hasn’t he left this awful place???
Or, if it’s a bunch of old men that all look the same that all happened to end up in there, then I wonder what’s the attraction to this place with old men? But I digress. You draw your own conclusions.
Nonetheless, he’s there for you when you need him and for that, we thank him.
Another thing that cracks me up about this game is the inclusion of dungeons. You head inside one, fight some more baddies, and get to pop open some treasure chests. From there, you exit back into…Well, a bigger dungeon?
Is it just me, or did anyone else think we were already in a dungeon from the start? They went ahead and put a dungeon in our dungeon!
As you would imagine, the first time you encounter each of these, they wipe the floor with you. After a few tries and learning their attack patterns, you should be able to defeat them with a little work.
By no means am I calling Black Tiger repetitive or basic. In fact, everything we’ve covered here is really just the first level or two of the game. Sure, the scenery changes per level and the difficulty increases perfectly as well. But in a nutshell, it’s a mostly linear, hack and slash game that’s about getting from point A to point B with variations of quantity and type of monster encounters. Would a game like this survive on today’s market, even as a smartphone app? Probably not, save for us geeky geezers who bask in the light of these types of games. But what it was back in the Summer of 1987 was a thrill ride against creatures similar to what you would have met in movies like The Dark Crystal or The Never Ending story. Black Tiger holds a special, nostalgic place in my heart, and it takes me back to a time before first-person shooters and glossy racing games.
Please believe, the challenge is still there too. As of writing this, the farthest I’ve ever made it is level 5. I thought about Googling more info about the end levels of the game to wrap this up with, but I don’t want to spoil it for myself. All I know is, by level 5 you better be ready for the fight of your life against everything you’ve encountered in the previous levels, all at once, and more!
Remember, it’s a crazy world out there. Don’t leave home without your big ol’ knife launching chain with various killing devices at the end of it. (Had to say it one more time!)